UC Administrative Professional Staff Contract Workers — An Unfair System

As we are having conversations with unrepresented UC administrative professional staff in our effort to build the UC Administrative Professionals Network, we have come across many staff who are not career employees for UC.  Rather these staff are hired under individual term contracts and are commonly referred to as contract employees.

There appear to be some patently unfair conditions contract staff work under.  First, they basically operate without much, if any, due process. They also work in a state of limbo with no job security, sometimes for many years. And here are examples of the arbitrary and disempowering conditions that contract workers face at the UC:

  • Contract work is essentially an extended probationary period.  After each term, the contract is up and it can be renewed (or not).
  • Some are told they’re not eligible for a career position until they renew at least three times.
  • Many miss out on “years of service” accrual for the purposes of vacation time and retirement since the years they work under the individual contracts are NOT guaranteed to count towards their tenure as a UC worker.  However, some contract workers have been told their contract time will count towards their years of service.
  • Many do not receive a formal evaluation so they have even less leverage for job security nor are they given the opportunity.
  • Some contracts are very short term (6 months or less).
  • Some contract workers do not know the length of their contract and have been told different answers by various people when queried.
  • Some international workers were told they may be sponsored for visas, despite there being no history of sponsorship in the department.
  • Some receive no benefits … while others do.
  • Some workers have a hard time implementing quality research projects due to their short employment term and  high turnover.
  • Some contract workers are assigned work that is above their pay grade and/or are taking on the workload of multiple people. But, they feel discouraged to question or negotiate against being underpaid and overworked because of their contingent status.
  • Contract appointments can potentially not be eligible for systemwide general salary or merit increases that the career staff are eligible for.

We are not quite sure how setting up these kinds of jobs fits in the UC beloved “Principles of Community” but it is apparent that without representation, staff is pretty much at the mercy of management “discretion”—meaning managers and departments can do just about anything they want to staff without fear of repercussions. Also, instead of investing in career positions, this creates a system that incentivizes campuses to provide jobs that are less permanent and secure at the detriment of the workers, the workers’ projects and research, and the overarching goal of the UC as a public good that advances knowledge and empowers the community.

It is notable that the Teamsters have addressed this unfairness in the CX (clerical) union contract by negotiating rights for all employees in the bargaining unit, including those who are working in non-career positions.  What’s more, the Teamsters’ CX contract provides for automatic conversion to a career appointment after 1,000 hours of work for most employees working in non-career positions.

All over the U.S. there is a trend for jobs to become more “contingent” – that means jobs are becoming less permanent and less secure.  We are concerned that contract employees are part of a trend at UC to make our work more contingent. The UC Administrative Professional Network is investigating this issue at UC, has made an information request to UC under the California Public Records Act.  We will keep you posted about what we learn and what we need to do about this matter.

Contract employees have a lot to say about their employment status.  The following are quotes from these (and other) employees about contract work at UC.

“I was hired at a lower pay title but I’m currently doing the work of a pay title that’s paid more. I am not sure when my contract actually ends because I’ve been told my contract is 6 months by one person and one year by another and what is especially disturbing is that my contract paperwork does not indicate an ending date – it is concerning to not know how long my job is expected to last.”

“It would be nice to be union represented to have a clear set of rules and rights in our employment. The contract workers in my department are not sure of our rights and benefits since they could be Department defined vs UC defined vs UCLA defined. There is lots of confusion on what benefits and the types of contracts I’m allowed to ask about or for which I’m eligible. I’ve also gotten different answers depending on who I ask – Supervisor vs HR. Also, I wasn’t even aware I could negotiate for a career position but I found out much later that other contractors could and did negotiate… I feel I was deceived.”

“As a career employee I feel that the UC is hiring contract workers to bypass career staff from advancing their careers at UCLA.  Many times, I have expressed the desire to cross-train into other areas where I feel I could promote should a position become available in my Department.  However, they hire contract workers with no experience at a much lesser rate than the starting salary of the wage range of these positions. I feel I am denied the opportunity to advance and that the UC doesn’t see any value in investing in me despite working here for many years. My supervisor says I “do not have enough experience” but the contract workers they are hiring have way less experience than I do.”

“I was told I’m the only person that wasn’t offered an increase in my department. When I asked about it, I was told that the increases received by others were not merit based. Upon pressing further, I was told they were not due to a COLA (cost of living adjustment) so it is still unclear why other contract workers in my department received a wage increase and I did not. I was also told my boss was unhappy with my work but refused to give me an explanation. Just last week, my supervisor said “I would do things differently” regarding my current project. When I asked “how”, her reply was “I’m too busy” and ended our conversation there. It is demoralizing to be in this situation”

 “I haven’t had any issues or concerns about my contract, but it’s nice to know there’s a platform to turn to if I have any questions or concerns.”

“I feel very sensitive about losing out on my years of service particularly towards my retirement. My benefits seemed nebulous because it was hard to reach people and get a straight answer. I had to figure out most of the information on my own and it was isolating and frustrating.”

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